Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.”
The more ‘mainstream’ and popular something is, the less likely I am to want to try it. I’m just contrary like that. I’ve never watched Titanic, Forrest Gump, Schindler’s List, or Inception. On the other hand, I haven’t seen Twilight, so it’s not all bad.
Everyone has heard of Stephen King. He’s the penultimate household name in writing. So when people started telling me that I “had” to read his book On Writing – A Memoir, I resisted. Not because I didn’t think it would be good (although I wasn’t sure), but because “everyone” was doing it. I resisted all the way up until last week.
I’m not going to say that I regret not reading this book sooner, although in some ways I do. But I am going to say that I’m glad I read it now. On Writing is exactly what it claims to be — a memoir. It isn’t a book on how to write. It isn’t a book on ‘The Craft’. It isn’t a lot of things that I’d expected. But it is a book full of insights, ideas, and a level of realism that transforms Stephen King from a mystical author who rescues kittens before breakfast into a real live human being who puts words on paper, day after day after day.
Amateurs sit and wait for inspiration, the rest of us just get up and go to work.
On Writing is divided into three separate sections. The first, CV, is a selection of memories from his childhood and his beginning life as a writer. This was probably my favourite part of the book. From stories about his first short story rejection, to publication, and struggles with drugs and alcohol, reading it was like a mix between meeting up with King over a few drinks, and standing in a garden bed peering through the windows of his life.
Now comes the big question: What are you going to write about? And the equally big answer: Anything you damn well want.
The second section is the meat-and-drink of the information on writing. This was probably my favourite part of the book. It isn’t a boring recital of grammar, style, voice, and all the other tools of the trade — although he does make mention of some. King doesn’t tell you how to “make it big”. In fact, he makes it clear that there are no magic secrets of writing. (Bummer, huh?) But he talks about strategies, ideas, goals, and the “soft” skills of writing. And this is why I don’t really regret not reading On Writing earlier. If I’d been looking for a how-to book, I would have been dreadfully disappointed. But now, I found it inspiring.
When you write you tell yourself a story. When you rewrite you take out everything that is NOT the story.
Finally, the third section, ‘On Living: A Postscript’ details the events of a car accident that nearly cost him is life in 1999, and his subsequent recovery. This was probably my favourite part of the book. (Are you noticing a theme here?) As he details his excruciating injuries, I found myself close to tears more than once. He talks about everything from waking up on the side of the road, the driver that almost killed him looking over him (“It occurs to me that I have been nearly killed by a character right out of one of my own novels. It’s almost funny.”), through to the painful Physical Therapy (Pain and Torture) and his return to writing.
Just remember that Dumbo didn’t need the feather; the magic was in him.
King says time and time again in On Writing that the most important part of writing and editing is to omit all needless words. So, here’s my review stripped of everything unnecessary: Read this book.
Whether you’re a writer, you know someone who’s a writer, or you once read something that was written, my advice is the same: Read this book.
Writing is magic, as much the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink. Drink and be filled up.